Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A slight change in focus

Some of you know that i used to have another blog called the T.I. Research Blog which was a bit more like a regular diary kind of blog. I had to stop writing that blog because the political situation in America has become so utterly miserable that i couldn't write about without becoming angry. That, and others have found a way to do so with a much lighter heart than i can muster. So I stopped.

But, lately it occured to me that i might want to occasionally talk about events and trends and such things here, as long as i can figure out a way to link the ideas and content back to games and gaming.

Because as horrifying as the Neocon hegemony is, thirty more years of it would make for a unbelievably cool game setting.
I know this to be fact.

Are you like me, insofar as when you hear about some horrifying tragedy or attrocity, you might feel guilt, or sadness or a desire to help in some way, but something in the back of your mind is trying to work it into a game setting? I KNOW i'm not alone on this one.

So, at least once a week i'll try to collect some headlines and news stories and toss them into the old game spinner.
Which is a great deal like a salad spinner. In fact, my game spinner IS an old salad spinner. Yard sales. You KNOW I love them.

Sono Finito

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Long Game

So you are going to play an elder vampire or an undying mummy or some near immortal magus or even some old raggedy garou with plenty of years but still dangerous and full of useful lore. You get an opportunity to play something front-loaded with points, but you've got to come up with some kind of background.

Now, i'm not suggesting you don't know how to build a character. Not a bit. but building a character with that much meat on it has a few subtleties. And if you want to build one that is not only fun to play and 3 dimensional, you have to be a little methodical about what you're building.

The point of this exercise is to enable you to tell stories. Stories about your character. Some you'll keep to yourself. Others you'll share with anyone. Others you tell to illustrate a point or to share an intimacy. People collect stories all their lives. People with longer lives have a lot more stories to tell. and it is this factor perhaps more than any other that give depth and texture to a character and makes them more than a Generic Vampire Elder Guy or whatever.

Mortal Life
So the first bit is obviously figure out who your person was back in the day. When you describe your person to another person you almost always use this bit as your handle. "Oh my character was an egyptian priest in his mortal life." Seems simple enough right?
Of course, choosing a place and time to come from is the single most important decision you can make about your character. It determines how much history you have to soak up for your character. I mean, if your going to play a guy who was an Egyptian priest it behooves you to bone up on the history.
But beyond this basic idea, is the fact that a person who was born in that time will have different attitudes he was raised with. He may have altered those attitudes over the course of time but many times they will still be his primary filter for dealing with new information. especially under stress. Don't believe me? Ask someone who was raised Baptist or Catholic. even if they no longer profess those faiths they still may have remnants of them in their structure of values.
In addition, It also determines what things will be comforting to a character. In a vampire Larp some years ago i played a character who was the son of a wealthy landowner and if he'd had a chance to do so, would have become a professor of history. Those choices in his mortal life led to an ongoing love affair with anything classical, even though he was embraced in the 1800's. Oddly, it made other vampires who didn't know him very well assume that he was far older than he was.
The point I'm trying to make though about being thorough with this part of things is that the supernatural thing is merely the icing on the cake. The human being underneath with all of it's loves and hates, strengths and neuroses... THAT, is the cake. Never ever forget that in the dizzying process of spending points and coloring in dots.

The change in states of affairs.
How did it happen. Where did it take place? Was it sudden and traumatic, or was it drawn out and ritualized. Did you seek it out, or did it seek you out? The change in a persons life that marks the end of their old life and the beginning of the new life, is the one story that you absolutely ought to be able to tell. Do yourself a favor and make sure that it is the one story that you know ALL of the details of.
Unless of course, it's the one story, that you know NONE of the details of. But hey, that's your choice, Still and all, those first few days and nights when the change in affairs begin to set in are the most vivid and those hard lessons learned are the ones most likely to stick with the character for the rest of his unusually long life.

Be wrong on occasion
Nobody is right all the time. The only people who play characters who are right all the time are twinks. You've been around a long time, On more than one occasion you've said or done things that have come back on you like an IRS audit. Maybe you smarted off to the wrong elder. Maybe you committed a crime. Maybe you were convinced that the horseless carriage was a passing fad and that there would be no need to diversify your holdings which are heavily involved in the horse trade. Be free to be able to occasionally tell stories about how you occasionally fucked up, There should be a couple at least. Some you could tell with deathly serious mein and others with a chuckle and smile. If you've got centuries, then even the most horrific things can be the sort of thing you can look back on and laugh about...Eventually.
If you're a vampire create a story about a bit of feeding that went tragically and spectacularly wrong. there ought to be at least one. You should have at least one story that involves villagers with torches and pitchforks chasing you about the countryside. (if only metaphorically.)

You know, Orphans, with no friends or romantic entanglements or indeed connections to the outside are kind of rare. Some people who are playing the long game insulate themselves from their mortal families. The hurt of losing someone being too hard to bear, they close themselves off. It's too bad you can't live like that.
So people who find themselves outside the normal stream of things may end up haunting the lives of their familes and friends and paramours. Perhaps there is bitterness or thoughts of revenge. Perhaps there is a desire to help and promote them. Whatever the case, the actual current ties to any living family or friends are the province of mechanics, But this doesn't mean that there can't be stories of course.
Picture your family. hold them in your minds eye as if they were having a picture taken. Picture you and them indulging in some typical activity. Picture your family coping with some crisis. Make them real in your minds eye. Invest in them emotionally.
Now you can tell real stories about them that will bring honest tears to your eyes. And maybe to the eyes of others.

Out of the Loop
Now when you sit down to write your characters history, you are not going to want to write every damn thing your guy ever did from that day to this. for one thing it won't leave you any room to improvise, for another, who wants to do all that work? Fortunately, there are a lot of things that you can do to fill that time out. If you're a vampire, you can always go into the long sleep,
You can travel the world. Although, you should perhaps resist the urge to have your character present at every significant event in history. (Unless you're cursed that way.)
There are historical eras that will be attractive to you of course, but they are sandwiched in between eras that you don't care about. There's always the possibility of spending some time in a monastery of something. "Black Plague? No, I really didn't have much to do with that. I was spending some time as goatherd." "Nazi Germany? My good fellow i was far too busy perfecting my juggling skills in the hills of Botswana." You know, crap like that.
If nothing better occurs to you, you could do worse than to just go "Happy,Dull,Crisis" over and over until you get to the present day. if nothing else the dull times in your history will at least explain the time you had to spend learning various languages and learning other junk.

Start a Journal
It's a good idea anyway. Start and keep a journal of your everyday dealings within the day to day business of the larp. You can of course go back and talk about older days and how today's activities remind you of the past. This gives you an opportunity to get some of those stories down in a useful form, creates a lovely prop that can be used in game, and may have far reaching implications long after the character has met an unpleasant ends.
Journals can also give you an in-character reason for suspecting that your mind may have been tampered with. If your journals tell you that you did one thing but your memory says another. Well, most people may not suspect that you've got a journal.
In fact, an in-character Journal can be such a remarkable tool, that it may deserve a crank report all it's own.

The business of living a greatly extended lifespan can be remarkably complicated when it comes to the arena of fiscal acumen. Some immortals develop an "easy come-easy go" attitude toward cash. While others spend great energy to come up with iron clad wills leaving their money to themselves and plans to preserve the empire even if they personally are out of the loop for a hundred years. Whatever the case may be. An immortal life can develop a whole lot of junk. More than a U-stor-It can handle. And one man's junk can be another man's collectable. So while a vampire might crawl out of the earth with nothing more than what he's got in his pockets, he might have a coffin full of tchotchkes somewhere, easily sellable on E-bay. If you've got the points, you can bump your cash-flow considerably. but you should clear such a thing with your ST.
Of course, you might consider what your character might keep in her hope chest and what they mean to her.

Now we get into the meat of things where other folks are concerned. From being around, you might know some things. Things that other people don't know. Things that you can really only get from the ST. Hopefully, your ST has taken the time to build a fairly comprehensive history. Naturally, the ST will not have entrusted all of the nooks and crannies of this history to the body politic. If you've been around for a long time, perhaps you know of some of these nooks and crannies. You might go ask your ST whether that's the case.

Tangled in the Web
Now it's time to get the others involved. If you've been around an area for while, you and the supernaturals in the area are likely to have met one another and exchange recipes and whatnot.
Wait. No...
More likely there is some kind of web of love and hatred extending back over the years. Slights, betrayals, failed romances, moments of weakness, secret trysts, and all the sort of things that make for good soap opera. Naturally this is ripe for all sorts of pre-scripting but you can even improvise bits of a shared past. besides, it's always fun to look at a fellow player and say something on the order. "You know, this is like that time you got ripped on Absinthe and decided to storm the bastile...all by yourself. Remember?"

Sono Finito

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Breaking the Rules (tip 1)

As i said in the past, Well run cities are dull cities. Princes who are actually efficient at their job and are capapble of stamping on all evildoers makes for dull play.
Since this is the case, it's a good idea to start coming up with things that you can do to create more plot and liven up the game, even if it means that your character might actually get into some hot water over it.
To this end, i will post a couple of things you can do to break the rules. This won't be a regular column nor will it be like a two parter or something. (I'm STILL struggling with the second part of Know your Role.) These will just be coming out as i think of them.

Feeding where you Shouldn't
Usually what happens is that the prince and the primogen divvy up the prime bits of real estate and then tell everybody where the feeding grounds are. I have seen situations where a PC has fed outside of his feeding grounds, but for the most part it was something that was engineered by the ST's. Mostly on a blown hunt roll or maybe a blown frenzy roll.

What I don't get, is why there isn't more actual intentional breaking of this rule. After all, if it weren't a problem, they wouldn't need a freaking rule for it would they? What better way to preserve your own feeding grounds and show your contempt for another vampire or covenant, than by intentionally grazing on their patch.
This has multiple benefits. If you eat clean, you can probably get away with it for a long time without the vampire(s) in question even catching wise. If you eat sloppy, (and refrain from getting caught) then you can make hunting in their patch that much harder as neighborhood watch programs spring up to combat the menace and home security starts to get more stiff.
In fact, you can be caught red-handed by the vampire whose territory it is and if he's of less status than you, then who will believe him? Granted, if someone really looks into things with Auspex the truth can come out, but you might be able to buffalo them or dominate them into forgetting.
Naturally, if someone twigs to what you're doing, things can get a little hairy but at least it gives the Sherriff's deputies something to do. Keeping them going in the wrong direction or buying them off might require a little effort. To this end you might go to the additional effort of dominating a couple of vampires into feeding in that area too in order to muddy the waters. Feeding while obsfuscated might also provide some protection. You could also dominate someone into eating sloppy
in your own area (as a last resort) in order to throw suspicion off of you.
Now, if you do get caught, you can expect to be dragged in front of the prince but this crime is a relatively small time crime compared to something like say, Diablerie. Also, you can expect to make an enemy out of the character who you've been poaching from. Naturally, if someone feeds on his patch, he'll suspect you and probably accuse you publicly. Naturally, if you can dominate someone to do it for you, specifically someone with enough Obfuscate to look like you, while you are at a party in front of 50 witnesses... Well, that just means people will assume he's crying wolf next time...
Feeding in another predators domain is the same thing as pecking at them, like chickens do. If a chicken has a spot of blood on them the other chickens will peck them to death. If done right it can even provoke a frenzy, like a mortal insult.
A kindred suffering such an insult in public will be wroth with anger.

In fact, it is my hope that this little tip, will cause PC's in larps all over to start poaching on other's domains. It will certainly up the soap opera factor.

Sono Finito.

The Hammer Comes Down

"Government is the Science of Punishment."

When in the course of Supernatural events it becomes necessary to punish people who are doing bad things, It takes a bit of thought on the part of those who are in power. See, character mortality can be a bitter pill to swallow for players. Especially for certain types of players. I'm not going to get into that. But for those players who end up in the power positions of a given game a little forethought can forestall all sorts of problems and additionally create a bit of extra drama.

Humans, Werewolves, and Vampires are gregarious animals (for the most part) So it's a hard thing to be seperated from the only group of people who understand the real changes in your life. This may be the stuff of a really great story in a table top game.
Only problem is that it's not really practicable in a larp setting. Larps are built on social dynamics, so it's kind of counter-intuitive to isolate a person from the rest of the body politic. Doesn't make for a fun night at the larp, Unless there are at least a few people who are willing to defy the powers that be. Usually, the Ostracism comes with some kind of clause that anybody who treats with the enemy of the state is also subject to Ostracism if caught. This can be awkward if everybody decides they like the offender better.
This is not to say that Ostracism can't be used constructively. It's the sort of punishment that you could mete out to an NPC who maybe needs to be moved into the background (This of course might be the sort of thing that should be pre-scripted)

While Ostracism isn't wildly practical. Exiling an errant person from the game is actually a bit of a long term investment in drama. The idea is this; If you exile someone from your kingdom, they will return in some form or another. How that character will return will vary from game to game. Some will return as avenging conquerors, other will return as emmissaries from another place (and they either desired to return or were ordered to.) To exile someone is to let the character live but not allow it to be played in the game under normal circumstances. This one might also call for a bit of pre-scripting, But should it be used without this kind of planning, It's not bad form to go the ST and plan some sort of return a bit further on down the line.
The Torpor Closet, which I mentioned in a previous article also falls under this rubric and can be used for the same purpose.

Tim Toner once wrote a brilliant article about vampire politics and the punishment that goes along with that sort of thing. One of the things he pointed out was that the vampiric form could be used against the miscreant. Like for instance breaking an arm or leg and forcing the lawbreaker to heal it back incorrectly. In games, I have sentenced people to having bits of them struck off and seared with a hot iron so growing them back was painful and costly. Caught feeding in someone elses domain?
Lose both legs as a way of saying,"Hey maybe it would be better if you stuck closer to your own territory." Can't keep your mouth shut at court? Or maybe get caught bearing false witness against another? Yank that tounge out and sear the stump.
In addition, there is Branding, (Which is classic Lancea Sanctum, "Scarlet Letter" anyone?)
This has a couple of interesting side effects. It makes hunting harder. It also makes dealing with any of your human vassals harder, especially if they don't know you are a vampire. It marks you of course as someone who has transgressed against the established order (So newbies get the hint) and it gives the player a thing to work with drama wise without all that messy mortality.

Trial by Combat
When one has transgressed against another (but not necessarily against the state) then it stand to reason that there ought to be someway to resolve these sorts of beefs...and create additional plot. Say that maybe the offender has to run a gauntlet of aggrieved offendees (and in the case of Vampires and Werewolves, this can be a horrifying prospect. Even if each person on line only gets 1 hit on the offender, that can lead to some major damage. And there's no telling what will happen if the miscreant should stumble and fall. Anything could happpen in such a dogpile.
Monomacy is a time honored tradition among Vampires but lesser duels can settle smaller problems and lesser beefs. Take a couple of pissed off vampires and handcuff them together but cover their mouths with duct tape. First vampire to frenzy gets pounded by the onlooking crowd. Lest, you think that I'M sick, i'm just a student of history. It used to be the fashion amonst upset Italians to duel. holding a piece of paper or tied together with a long cloth and try to stab one another with thumb-length razor sharp blades. The winner was usually the person who came away from the fight with the fewest mortal wounds. Just goes to show, never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
Formal duels are good for plot, they can involve seconds, duelists for hire,cheating and all manner of antics by the crowd.
Informal duels can also be good for plot although they are for more personal storylines. Werewolves virtually never duel informally. It's usually about dominance and needs the pack present.

Trial By Ordeal
Okay, it's pretty clear that you screwed up. The question is how badly should you be punished? You might allow your miscreant to mitigate his punishment by allowing him to undergo an ordeal of some sort. I once read that Trial by Ordeal was used heavily among the vikings as a way to discover guilt or innocence. the only method I remember right off the top of my head was that an Iron ingot was put into a boiling cauldron and fished out with tongs once heated, the ingot was then held in the hands of the accused until the judge said he could drop it. You could used this method against kindred too and it would work.

Loss of Chattels and/or Fines
Now, you wouldn't think that this would hurt as much as some kind of punishments, but for mages and other human types this can hurt pretty badly in some ways. Even some vampires might get very upset, if a judgement against them should dictate the execution of a favored ghoul. Similarly, an upset prince could demand that the vampire in question be forbidden from cultivating influence in a specific area if he's managed it badly, stripping him of all the influence in that field.
This is not to say that there can't be some bargaining or horsetrading or even going behind the back of those in power to regain their former chattels. That's all part of the fun.
In practice, this might mean the loss of Backgrounds (under the old system) or Merits(under the new) Those points haven't gone away but might take some time and effort to regain. With the ST's permission this might even be an opportunity to shuffle the points around a bit.

Loss of Domain
This can be hard for nearly any person. For a Werewolf, you get stripped of any kind of homestead. For a mage, this might mean the loss of a Hallow or a Demesne. For Vampires it is deadly. Not only could you lose your rights to your own haven, but you lose the right to feed within a city. You would be dependent on any vampiric allies within the city or you'd have to hie off to the hinterlands of the bedroom communities of the major city to hunt. That's Werewolf country... Hunting rolls should be made very hard indeed.

Blood Bond
While it's always tempting to turn an enemy into a friend via the means of the Blood oath, it makes others in the Princes realm nervous insofar as they could find their basic liberty at risk for increasingly trivial offences. it's a slippery slope. and everybody in town will be watching to see if you slip down it.
That said, Bloodbonding tends to generate plot no matter what you do. There are those who will decide to throw in with the Prince. There are those who will struggle to be free again from the yoke of servitude.

Public Humiliation (direct or indirect)
Nobody likes to be busted on publicly. I've talked about this in other Reports. But I was speaking of players. CHARACTERS, on the other hand, can and should be busted in public court every time you can get away with it politically. Same for all the other types. Stocks, public scourging and other such forms of humiliations are the tools that you can use to generate IC hatreds that will last the life of the game.
You can of course, decide not to punish the offender directly. Punish his allies. or better yet, punish his mentor. Peer pressure can be a marvelous thing. Say that a Lancea Sanctum member needs punishment. Why not punish the whole covenant for his screw-up, and leave him be. I gaurantee that the rest of the covenant will keep a closer eye on his activities from that point on...

Or you could have Miranda Zero come round and kick their ass. That's what i'd choose.

Sono Finito

Sunday, November 20, 2005

An Open letter to blog Spammers

I realize that you will probably never read this. In all likelihood, my blog was picked up by your spambot, and the congenial,but fake as a ratty weave, text extolling the virutes of my blog, which you have not read, is just another extension of the ersatz courtesy that you hope will draw me into your carnivorous pitcher plant of crass consumerism.

Consider: how much actual business do you draw with you spamming? Has anybody EVER been moved to spend large amounts of money on crap that sought them out on the internet? DO you create more goodwill for your product than you do contempt or wall punching fury?

Take your products, your goods, your services and fold them until they are all corners and insert them rectally please. If I concieve of a need for a prodcut like yours, i will be sure to patronize any and all of your competitors, simply by dint of them not intruding on my life with their net-based harrassment.

In other words, stay the fuck off my blog.
Right now, i can't be bothered to seek you out and wreak public grisly justice on you.
You don't want this state of affairs to change.

another useful tip

When someone pitches an idea to you for your larp, ask them to give you three ways that it will generate plot.

In other words. "Give me three reasons why this helps this helps the story along instead of reasons why this makes your character more powerful and makes your nipples hard."

Odds are good that if you do a bit of thinking and pitch the idea that it will go towards helping the larp, then you might get what you're looking for.

And maybe you'll get the tingly nipples too.

And now:
A kitty with creepy mind scrambling eyes!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Blogroll Follies

So i'm putting some linky bits over there on the left. (No, My left not yours.)
Don't feel bad if you're not on yet. Especially if you know me personally. I'm putting it on in chunks
You could of course send me a link to your Blog if you think i should put yours on. That is, if you know me and you aren't some evil spammer.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Photos from Origins

So, it turns out that adding photos to this Blog is retardedly easy. And since i remembered that i have some photos that i took of some game tables at Origins...

I love the Ziggurat. and all the pretty trees.

Teeny teeny british troops...

I remembered being quite taken with the colour choice and the detail work on this castle. Nifty!

Followers of Set Represent Muthafuckas!

Wouldn't relish fighting my way across this terrain. Could be worse though. Could be snowing.

I have no idea what this game would have been. but I must admit that i am fascinated to know.

Just about the damn coolest castle i saw.

Now i kind of see why the Mongols were so demoralized when the rolled and saw the wall. I can only imagine that it would have been the Mongolian equivalent of "What the Fuck! Where did this come from!"

Sono Finito.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Informational Management and Plot Structure

So, I was going on about the "ST as informational manager" and it occured to me that there isn't really a hard and fast method for structuring the release and dissemination of information.

Oops. Got all buzz-wordy there.
Okay, As i mentioned before, it's important to understand the Who,What,When,Where,Why, and How of the plot in order for the plot to be fully realized. But getting those seperate and discrte bits of intel into the hands of the players (Who can hopefully manipulate them into a coherent picture.) Is still an inexact science. Hopefully, by trying to figure out a framework for this sort of thing, it might get easier to break plotting a storyline into many tiny jobs, as opposed to one great big mammoth job.

A wise man once said, "If you must eat the elephant, take small bites."

The Inkling
The begining of any plot is the Inkling. This is that bit where the players first come into contact with the plot, have no real knowledge as to what the flying fuck is going on, and are hopefully going to start asking questions rather than just start shooting. Whether it's finding the first corpse, or hearing about a mass suicide in a small new england town 3 days after a meteor strike, or some other bit of craziness, It's imperative that you have all the information that the players are never going to know.
Okay, that's maybe a little opaque. You have to know the entire history of the plot whether it's something that the players are liable to bump into or not. Mainly because this will help you know the various avenues of finding things out about the plot proper. Remember you need more than one road to the truth.
While it's cetainly tempting to be as stingy as you can with information at this point, It may be frustrating to players if you are too parsimonius. In fact you can probably supply more information at the jump than you think you can. You could take one of the six elements above and give it out in it's entirety. You could tell Why something is happening but maybe not How or What. You could even give away nothing more than the When and let the players scramble before the date arrives trying to figure out what the portents mean.
Take a locked room mystery as an example. The What (dead guy in a locked room) is obvious.
As the mystery unfolds, the players peel away the other layers. In fact, it might be interesting to vary the last piece of the puzzle as the most important bit. In one case, finding out Whodunnit, is the most important bit. In another case, finding out who actually did the deed comes relatively easy, but finding the How and the Why, in order to establish opportunity and motive is the hard bit. It doesn't help matters to know who the killer is only to be unable to prove it in court.

The Lookaround
Hopefully, your players are the sort of folks who chomp at the bit for a nice juicy bit of plot. If wave a bit under their nose and then huck it into the middle distance, they are off like a shot. I hope that's the case for you. I do. If this is indeed the case, then your players will want to gather some intelligence. Whether it's onto the Net, Into the Library or out onto the streets, your plyaers will have entered the lookaround phase of the plot.
This part can be of a variable length. I council that it has no more than 3 actual phases of the total plot unless the plot is an extended hunt for intelligence with a discernable goal. (Like say, a hunt for pirate treasure with lots of weird clues and and strange locales.) In most antagonist driven plots, It's important that the lookaround NOT be some way to keep the players from contact with the antagonist.
The Lookaround cuts both ways. If the players are asking questions about Mr.X. in certain quarters, there is nothing stopping Mr. X from hearing about it, nor is there anything wrong with having Mr. X. put a price on their heads or looking into THEIR affairs.Just remember while you might be profiling the serial killer, he might be profiling YOU.
Sometimes, the Lookaround involves research. I've talked about the uses of trash-facts in the past as a way of signalling when the research has reached it's natural end, and the researchers have to get out of the library and gather intel in person.
But it's very important that the players gather some actual information from their work. Sometimes, the Why is the thing that is most hard to come by. Research can help with this. If a forensic investigation is the work in question, then the players are looking for the How,(The Why may come along with it, but the How is primary.)

Now, if things go according to plan, the players will figure a few things out, plan accordingly, and then with some skill and a bit of faith will find a way to confront the bad guy or the natural disaster or whatever head on and prevail. That is the plan right? It's very easy to get caught up in the whole idea of making the mystery hard for the players. Almost to the point of forgetting that the game is about your players, and not your super clever antagonist. The plan is to enable and allow the players to actually make it to the finish line. There is nothing wrong with making the mystery hard, but you also have to remember. YOU CONTROL THE FLOW OF INFORMATION.
Steve Darlington (Who is a genius by the way) came up with a term derived from the game Myst. It involved trying to find a teeny tiny clue in a room and being unable to move forward without locating this clue which was effectively a few pixel large.
This is called "Pixelbitching"
Now if your players are paying attention, taking notes, doing the proper research. making the proper moves in the Lookaround phase of the plot, then it's no problem if things come hard. They'll tease it out eventually, and they'll be happy they took the long route.
However, there are days when days when this is too much to ask. They might ignore a key witness. They might mis-hear a vital clue or forget a vital clue. They may have all the pieces and not be able to muscle them into a coherent picture. They might even be in the unenviable condition of being unable to catch a clue even if slathered with clue musk, and doing the clue mating dance, amidst a field of amorous clues in clue mating season.
These things happen. Don't sweat this. Only sweat things when the players figure your plot out in 2 minutes flat.
In the meantime, you might want to hold some means of getting a hint into your players hands. Have a contact visit them with new details, have the lab reports come back, Does the Antagonist have enemies? Wouldn't it be nice if they dropped by for tea and scones and told you how to jack his shit up? If no other means presents itself, you might use a dream sequence or a prophecy to reveal some element of the plot.
it's also a good idea to have an idea of how players are likely to go looking for information and to figure out way to make those points they worth the investment. If a character spends a lot of points on some prophetic gift, then it's going to frustrate him mightily if his gifts are all but useless because you don't want to give too much of the plot away. the only way to curb this tendency is to anticipate exactly what those gift will give him. Watch episodes of Dead Zone to give you an idea of how to make this work and mutilple complications of that kind of gift. They really go the extra mile in showing how Precognition can confuse more than illuminate.

Contact with the Enemy
This can be as slam bang as any comic book or as low key as the opening scene in Swordfish where Gabriel is in the coffee shop talking about films. But each time you have contact with enemy, you learn a bit more about him. Sometimes, a lot more.
And they in turn, learn more about the PC's. There are some bits of information that can only be gleaned by contact with the enemy. sometimes it's necessary to have contact multiple times before the information can be resolved. For instance, an enemy who seems unstoppable in combat, Or who always has an escape route planned.
Look at any good Kung Fu film, The bad guy always seems unstoppable and it takes a while for the protagonist to learn how to beat him. Follow this path.
It's important to remember that each contact with the enemy gives away a little more of the antagonists strength and mystery, but that this is necessary for the furtherance of plot. Heck, give the bad guy an opportunity to "Monologue" and he'll give away every piece of information that the players don't yet have.
And that is as it should be. At some point, the players should in fact have the whole ball of wax.

Sono Finito.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Shake your fist at heaven and curse the day you crossed ME!

One of the reasons that i feel i've gotten bored with Vampire Court is that it's starting to get boring and same old same old.
This ain't the way it's supposed to be. Larp shares a number of things in common with Soap Operas. One of the things that is most appropriate for a vampire is that Court instead of being a dry and orderly recitation of events, appointments and edicts handed down from on high. Should be a contentious and seething cauldron of hatred, envy, and barely concealed political violence.

How do you get this?
Well, i've mentioned that Princes ought to be doing their level best to try to keep various factions. but this in no way substitutes for a player who is proactive about generating plot for themself. Ben Vandegrift actually had a neat idea about this. If two players came to him and told him that they were having a feud with one another, then as long as they role-played a churning, wall-punching, vituperative hatred of one another, then each player would receive extra XP. I like this idea. More to the point, I know it works.

There are couple of guidelines of course.

My Enemy,My Friend
Take my message to heart and learn it's basic truth. YOU SHOULDN'T EVER HAVE AN IN-GAME RIVALRY WITH SOMEONE YOU DON'T LIKE OUT-OF-GAME.
Do I really have to explain why? Well, alright, if you insist. It's too easy to go overboard. it's too easy to lose your actual temper, it's too easy for out of game politics to fuck up the fragile social dynamic of the game. It's too easy for real emotional issues to creep into the game. It's too easy for all the fun to get sucked out of the game not just for you, but also for the people caught up or draggged into your personal drama.

This is not the plan.

It's the same reason why it's a bad idea to try to game with a person you've recently broken up with. It's too hard to remain objective and soon the game becomes a mere backdrop for the greek tragedy that your life has become. It turns out that this isn't fun for anybody.

So, my advice to you is to pick someone you LIKE to be your arch-nemesis. That way you have greater opportunities for intentional drama and less unintentional drama.

Script some, Improv some.
One the one hand, Don't tell each other everything that you plan to do to one another. Let some things be ugly surprises. Nothing kills drama like too much scripting. Also you can't really control too much of what the other players do.
However, that said, There's nothing better than having an opportunity to sit down and plan out some of the madness to come. A bit of scripting can determine the shape of a rivalry between two characters and in fact can help the two players determine the limited circumstances in which the two characters might work together or even bury the hatchet.
Watch some wrestling on TV. These guys have this down to an art. Shifting alliances, betrayals,last minute saves. It's all in there. A very wise friend of mine once explained that all wrestling writing follows from a simple premise. "One guy has the belt. All the other guys want the belt, All plot follows from this."
This is not rocket science. Nor is it hard to explain how this will work. There might be a situation where the arch-nemesis rides to the rescue simply because he/she can't bear the idea of allowing someone else to grease you. Nor crab the exquisite and drawn out plans for your horrifying tortuous demise.

It's more than just hate.
Immortality has a way of fucking up relationships. So does power and ambition. So it's no surprise that oftentimes relationships in the WOD go incredibly sour. It follows from this that arch-nemesis(sies? Saes?) can have had a romantic relationship prior to commencement of hostilities. In fact, the relationship may be an on again-off again kind of thing.
So if you're a couple, you might try this. Although, it occurs to me that what i said about having a problem with the person that you're having "hostilities" with, goes triple for any situation where you and your girl/guy are on the outs. Somebody should take a break until it's sorted. If it ever is.
But, an arch-rivalry between former paramours offers great dramatic potential. And even the possibility of some occasional in-character snogging.

I'm not actually British. I just like saying "Snogging".

It's not about the Mortality either..
This ought to be evident, but if one of the combatants dies the drama is over. Now, i'm not saying that there can't be some skirmishes of a martial nature. but psych-ops and social brinksmanship is more fun really, and allows others to play along.
Sure there will be some gang vs. gang trouble, but honestly if the feud is going to be PERMANENTLY settled then a couple of things ought to happen.
1) It should be planned.
2) It should be face to face, mano a mano. Perhaps a private duel.
3) Perhaps the duel isn't even to the death. Torporing for a long time might be just as effective.
4) A decision ought to be made previous, as to who's going down. (Maybe one of the players is just tired of that character and wants him to go out with a bang.) Although maybe it's finally time to see who's better in that arena. As long as there is a agreement that neither character dies cheap. Cause nobody likes to go out like a punk. By the end of the feud, the two characters ought to hate one another but at least respect one another.

Just cause it's over, doesn't mean the end.
Okay, so you and your enemy have been going around and around. and either you have shed some blood or maybe kissed and made up. Who knows. Conflicts can take on a life of their own without the people who've started them. Let's say that a bloody feud breaks out between two elders and it sucks in a couple of dozen players along the way. Hostilities in the feud may continue over things that happened during the elders war. Even if one is now dead or the elders are now boon companions.
Let's say that one of the actors in our little drama gets whacked. The story may yet continue. Does he have sleeper agents?
Perhaps a plan to strike out from beyond the grave at his enemies. I used to have the occasional character who would create something called the "Omega Protocol". The "Protocol" was usually something that would put the screws to the local Masquerade, if not the Masquerade at large..After all, If I'm dead, why should I give a shit about the Masquerade. Naturally, my death generates a dozen brush fires for people to run around and piss on. That's what we call plot.
Naturally, I did stuff like this with the full consent of the ST's. I'm not some kind of nut.

Sono Finito

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Johnny-come-lately, the new kid in town,
Everybody loves you, so don’t let them down.
"New Kid in Town" The Eagles

Whether it's your first night at the new larp or it's your first night back after having one of your characters cashed out, There is the ticklish business of getting your character into the swim of things. The problem is always one of finding ways to hook in.
There are so many ways to do the whole "I'm new in town." shtick. Frankly some of them are old and tired, but let's run through them for a bit of completeness.

It's an old story. Vampire meets Prey. Vampire bites Prey. Vampire for whatever reason gives the Prey a taste. Vampire buggers off and tells the Prey nothing. it happens. Sometimes, it's that old pesky guilt biting the Vampire. Sometimes it's to flood the city with young dumb Vampires. At times, it's a matter of respecting the fight the Prey put up. Sometimes it's a vindictive fuck-you-bitch embrace, Sometimes it's just a Clan thing.
Granted, this sort of thing is a great deal rarer in the new system, now that you have to chunk out a permanent Willpower to create a child. But it still occasionally happens. And it's naturally a source of great consternation to the Prince. Who wants to know who your sire is. Technically, they should wax you out of hand, but if the Prince has any Humanity at all, he's not going to want to. After all, you're blameless. You might think about doing some grovelling though and begging for your life. Pledging yourself to the prince's service might also be a good thing to do. (especially if you got some handy skill or knowledge.)
Of course, It may all be a sham. You might know who your sire is and be sworn to secrecy. You might also be Dominated not to tell. Perhaps you are a spy from another city. Perhaps you are a VII sleeper. Whatever the case, you may not be strictly telling the truth. This can be problematic depending on the ambient level of paranoia and how seriously the Sherrif takes his job.
Of course, once you overcome the the first hurdles, You still have problems with the fact that you don't have a sire, and nobody is backing your play. Also, you may have trouble with others pushing you around because you weren't really "Chosen" to be kindred. Ah well. nobody said Unlife was fair.

My Master's Bidding
Really powerful creatures (Mages, Vampires and Werewolves) may have far flung empires and interests. Your mentor may be a person of this sort and may have sent you to look after their interests. You may have specialized skills or perhaps you can back things up with your can do attitude and capacity for extreme violence. Whatever the case you are getting orders from a far off personage and that person expects you to do things. Sometimes dangerous and incomprehensible things.
Of course, a life of service has it's occasional perks. Odds are good that when you come to the City, you'll have a letter of introduction. The harpy's will have been called ahead and alerted to your coming and it's going to get around that you've got a mentor with some serious juice behind you. It's a bad idea to casually fuck with you. Of course, this may mean that people who decide to fuck with you won't be casual about it at all.
You may be in on your mentors plans. Or you may be in the dark. Or you may know, and still not know, if you what i mean.
Once the totality of the plan becomes apparent to you, what do you do? Do you continue to serve? Or do you throw in with locals and hope they understand?

Torpor Closet
You did something pretty bad. Perhaps you're a habitual screw-up and maybe you've got a poor case of impulse control. Whatever the story, you did something pretty bad and had the bad taste to additionally get caught. Who knows why the Prince didn't wax you outright. Maybe you resembled a long lost relative. Maybe he was having a really good night and was feeling clement. Perhaps you ganked somebody he would have just as soon see ganked. Ya never know. I any case rather than wax you outright, He decided to stick a stake in you, toss you in a disused linen cloest with a broken lock and a sign on that says "Beware of the Leppard" and promptly got on with the rest of his evening, forgetting all about you...
...Until tonight that is. Somebody dug you out of the closet and dumped your carcass in front of the prince, fed you a bit and then you get the bad news. In order to keep your mean and niggardly existence, you need to DO something for the Prince.
Perhaps you actually have specialized knowledge or skills. Maybe the Prince just wants a dispensable blunt instrument. perhaps you have prior knowledge of the problem before the prince and maybe you're the only one. (Which might give you a smidgen of leverage)
This option gives you the ability to hit the ground running in terms of plot. You'll probably also have a taste of the Prince's blood in your veins from the jump. it also gives you the excuse for playing a neonate with knowledge of the middling distant past, if that's your groove.

Laying Low
Once again, you did a bad thing. But at least you did this bad thing far far away. It may even be something you can talk about and gain some sympathy for. Or it may be so Heinous with a capital "Hei", that you want no one to know. In any case you're on the run and this town looks like a good place to get lost. In a sitaution like this, you'd want to cultivate as many friends as you can before the Sire you tried to whack comes over the horizon...Or whomever it is that you pissed off.
Another variation on this basic theme might be playing a refugee from a neighboring town. Maybe the Prince there is some kind of maniacal autocrat or a crusty old Ventrue gone up over the high side. Perhaps you're the only survivor (that you know of) of a vampiric holocaust or experiment gone wrong. Perhaps the VII or the Sabbat have rolled in force and squashed any resistance flat and may be planning to use the place as a staging area for sending sortie group here. Whatever the case, THAT place, was no longer tennable and you fetched up here. You may not be allowed to stay. but then again you may not anywhere else to go.

Possibly the simplest option. If you don't know dick about larp or the setting, (and this goes for other games as well) You might could do worse than to partner up with an actual player who can educate you. Show you the ins and outs. Block and tackle for you on occasion.
If you're not a newbie, you could still learn quite a bit about the larp itself by partnering up (although, you could of course take the whole bit about educating you in the ways blood-suckerdom as read.) And even if your an old hand at the larp, you might still consider this option as a way to have at least one real ally in play.

No Asshole, I LIVE here.
Maybe you live in a small town near the main city and don't consider yourself part of the Prince's reach, So, you've just never shown up around here. Maybe you've been in the ground sleeping it off. Maybe you're just so scared of other predators that you've kept yourself off the radar. In other words, you're a local who's just never shown up before and with a GM's kind permission you may even know a few secrets about this town that nobody else knows. It's not impossible you know. Even the most paranoid princes may not know every kindred in his domain.

Cause Follower
It doesn't really matter what Covenant or sect you belong to. If you got at least one charismatic guy in that group, word might get around to surrounding regions that THIS dude has it going on and has that whole "Look of Eagles" thing down.
In which case you might be able to play one of those persons who came to check that dude out and see if you could help.
You might even be a real help to the cause. God knows the Carthians and the Lancea never turn away sincerely offered help.
Of course, you might have issues of your own..Like nearly any of the other options above. But hey, it's all about the Cause comrade.

Sono Finito.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

An organizational tip!

I'm Anal. You may have noticed.
The only real problem is that i'm not Anal ENOUGH! Anybody who has run a larp knows that there is always an amount of information that slips through the cracks. You say to yourself, "I'll remember that until i get home." and then when asked later about the issue, you have to go, "...Um. Refresh me?"

I do this a lot.
To my credit, i have gotten pretty good about improving answers to question, so at least some part of my brain has been thinking about the issue.. But still and all. it would be better if i had a really good idea of all the issues that i need to have squared away by game time.

I've tried to keep a little pocket notebook, but the task of writing notes down is too fucking slow in the onstage environment and once i'm offstage, I need to decompress rather than take copious notes.

Oddly, i've discovered a way to keep notes that comes out of a prop i bought for a game.
I bought a mini tape recorder. I meant to use it to catch other players out with outrageous statements (usually about that asshole Prince, heh.)

Lately though, i've remembered that i am in fact a genius, and figured out that the Mini tape recorder is a damn near perfect tool for taking notes. It's fast, you can operate as fast as you can talk, you can record certain scenes if you choose, You can even interview people with it when asking THEM questions.

I can't believe that i didn't think of this sooner.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Things that don't really work in World of Darkness Larps

Edmund: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other's deterrent. That way there could never be a war.
Baldrick: But this is a sort of a war, isn't it, sir?
Edmund: Yes, that's right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.
George: What was that, sir?
Edmund: It was bollocks.

The first thing that i must tell you is that it is very difficult to concentrate on writing, with Eddie Izzard playing in the background.

Well, it is.

So, There are a couple of things on my mind these days about larps and larping, Specifically, what elements make a larp good, or make it bad. There are a few things that i have seen in larps that may work for others, but in the cases that i have seen these are a few things that did not work.

One of the reasons that cross-genre Larps don't seem to work is that in order for players to be able to interact with one another there have to be some kind of treaties in place in order to prevent open warfare from breaking out between the various forms of supernatural critters. In tabletop games this is perfectly fine. In Larps, it's just silly.
Unfortunately, there's no really good fix for this. If you allow treaties, then you have weird situations where supernaturals who would NEVER cooperate with one another, end up cooperating. If you don't allow treaties, then all your players balkanize and sequester themselves away from the other types. And then you've got 4 or 5 seperate games going on.
A possible fix for this problem is to attack it with troupe style play. Make everybody in the larp roll up a creature of every type and then maybe rotate the various games around. That way if a treaty gets broken it's a major event instead of a weekly occurence.
This is the same reason why Sabbat/Camarilla larps don't work and rarely last. Con larps where the two sides are forced to work togeter for any reason are usually also incredibly lame. In addition, there is usually marked surprise on the part of storytellers when the two groups DON'T work together as scripted. This would seem to apply to games where the Crone and the Sanctified ought to work together. As I always say. Plan events, DON'T plan reactions to events.

Well Run Cities
Nobody believes in them. They stretch the bounds of suspension of disbelief. Nobody is willing to credit the idea that a city has had a single group in power for centuries and that the place has run like a well oiled machine UP UNTIL TONIGHT! it's just too far to go. Build some political instability into city histories and find ways to plug in age old rivalries and political machinations.
And here's a tip for all you would be Vampire Princes out there. You don't want the city to run like a top. There, I said it. When you are prince, or whatever passes for a local authority in another genre of games, the LAST thing you want is to be too "good" at your job. There are many reasons for this:
1) Well run cities are DULL. By crushing every conflict, you are making the game uninteresting.
2) People will bring you every single problem (Part of the job really, but if you're too good at it, you'll never rest.
3) It leaves you exposed and sets you up for crucifixion if you do screw up.

The best thing you can do as Prince, is to keep the various factions at one another's throats without actually letting them kill one another. To play them off one another, so that they can't see what you're doing. Favor one, crush another. Then next week do the opposite. Scare them with your unpredictability. political unity among the undead makes for dull story telling. Ideally, you want a situation where even in situations where unity might be called for, you'll want at least a small group trying to dime out the other vampires to the hunters.

Too Many Fruitbats
Each and every GM knows this problem. Either they have trouble saying no, or they have someone on their staff who has trouble saying no and as result, you have too many odd or overspecialized types of critters running around but nobody bothering to play the "Pedestrian" types. Most large larp organizations disallow such shenanigans or make the approval process so epic and byzantine that most give up. But the smaller game GM may not have such recourse. And most GM can only take so much importuning before they give in to Precious Princess Snowflake and give that player the thumbs up.
You know, many players forget that there can be great strength in leaning into a stereotype. I've been in games that sported 3 Daughters of Cacophony but not a single Ventrue or Toreador. And while i must give points to the ladies who played those concepts, the game overall suffered from missing vital elements of kindred society. Namely, the Clans that most desired stability.
Heck, there was a point in a certain Larp where the bulk of the players seemed to be interested in playing Tremere and there was only 3 Ventrue (including myself) in town. I got to be the primogen by dint of being the only one interested in the job. But by the time i was through, the game was crawling with Ventrue. I like to kid myself into thinking it was because i showed them how cool they can be played.
Look, if you're coming into a larp, ask around about what's already represented in the game. If the basic stuff has been covered, then MAYBE you could ask about something kooky. But if NOBODY likes playing a Nosferatu, try playing a Nos, you'll basically have their niche in kindred society all staked out for yourself...Err. maybe i should re-phrase that.

Nope. I can't be arsed.

Too many Europeans
I realize that the United States of America is a relatively young nation. 400+ and change is fairly young on the old timeline of the world. And sure it's possible that there are some real elders floating around who predate the US, but your vampire court, unless it's a MAJOR american city shouldn't be lousy with Eurotrash. I can't count the number of Alexanders and Sebastians that i've bumped into in larps of varying sizes. (and only a few of them could actualy pull that shit off. Tip: Look through a Name dictionary and find something not altogether beat to death.)
Honestly, your hometown shouldn't be hip deep in elders of any nationality, but when you don't have enough American elders or ancillae in a city, it actually detracts from the mystique that Elders ought to carry. I have only once seen a Prince of a City who was a Native American..
Not all Elders need to be snooty, or upscale, or european, or a european wannabe. One of the longest running characters i've had the pleasure of seeing in larp was a blacksmith in life and half indian. and nobody expected him to be as old, or as potent as he was.

Gang Mentality
I've not seen this small larps so much. It seems that bigger larps tend to suffer from this one more often. Someone gets their feelings hurt, they go round up their posse, and then they roll the offender and devil take the consequences. Heaven help the Prince/Bishop/Whatever who tries to actually enforce the LAWS. That sort of thing just gets in the way of the carnage based fun. Feel bad for the Elder who decides to teach the neonates a lesson by harming their backgrounds/merits, only to find 10 of them camped out on his doorstep with a dozen molotovs and a Prince who either won't,or worse, CAN'T stop them.
Feel bad for the more subtle players when a game like reaches the point-and-shoot stage of things. Players who fall into the trap of using violence to solve every problem eventually run into a problem that can't be rumbled out of existence...and then the whining starts.
The only way this can beaten is to inculcate in your players the idea that there are some problems that simply will not yield to force of arms, and stick to your guns. Force your players to deal with the mental level and the social level of Larp or all they will spend their points on is combat powers. At that point you might as well be playing live action X-Box.
I've spoken in the past about the concept of the flashpoint, Get enough clueful players in a larp and it will take off and create a life of it's own. the obverse is also sadly true. Get enough combat meatheads in your larp, and they'll start offing one another in order to have something to do, if you don't provide them with handy (slam-dunkable) targets.

Dilution of Thematic Elements
What is the point of playing Vampire? Why are Vampires Cool?
Some would say that they are powerful, passionate, they live outside normal living society, They have powers beyond mortal ken and a larger understanding of the way the world really works than John Q Meatsack.
But this is only half of the game. It's too easy to fall into the trap of playing "superheroes with fangs" and leave aside the things that are maybe a little icky,uncomfortable, and decidedly un-fun to the twinky crowd.
Sure Vampires are all the things i described above, But what else are they?
They are lonely.
They are outside God's grace...and know it.
They are unable to trust one another.
They are passionate creatures, but that passionate fire comes at the cost of occasional lapses in self control. a slavering beast within that threatens to eat their personality bit by tiny bit in it's endless search for blood.
They live a life of lies and violence and serial-almost rape and murder.
Vampires are people who are in the slow inexorable process of forgetting how to be human. and that fall is a painful one all the way down. You'll hit every single branch.

That this stuff gets lost in the shuffle in favor of twinkiness is an honest tragedy.

Sono Finito.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Talked a bit with Gertrude (Again, not her real name) This evening. I was noticing a neat element of Requiem that i think might be needed to be pointed out.

Each of the kindred clans has a clan weakness that enables a savvy player to wax them in some kind of social contest of some sort. To my way of thinking, this is a good thing and rewards sneaky players who know the ropes.

The Nosferatu problem is typified by their troubles in the social realm. They don't get the 10 again when attempting to use social skills that don't involve intimidation. This can be crippling not only because it means that it's nearly impossible for Nosferatu to socially steer kindred society, but also because use of things like Allies and contacts can be sharply curtailed because many time they involve a social roll of some sort. In fact, an ST should keep an eye on Nosferatu players who try to use their personal social acumen instead of their characters and occasionally make them make a draw. Some folks don't really do that in terms of player to player interactions, but in terms of player to NPC interactions it should ALWAYS be done.

Same boat, different oar. Gangrel have similar problems in situations involving the use of their intellectual capabilities. Now, this is rarely a problem for the Gangrel himself, but it has some interesting ramifications. it can mean the occasional disasterous choice in the midst of combat. Especially in large scale combats where it can be hard to tell who is friend or foe. It also means that others can impugn a Gangrel's intelligence with relative in terms of plans or policies (although, you ought not to do so within earshot.) It's easy to say that the Gangrel "hasn't really thought it through.", or "He's missing the subtleties." of a situation, and be believed.

Ventrue go crazy. Everybody knows it. Some go slow, some go quick. but all of them go crazy. Want to stop a Ventrue in his track politicaly? Start questioning his sanity. Start pointing out things that he does that are odd or inconsistent or bordeline paranoid.(Shouldn't be too hard to find something.) You can deflate a ventrue's impassioned oratory in the midst of vampire court with a well placed twirling of the finger near the head if you've laid the proper groundwork. Heck you could conceivably DRIVE a ventrue into madness if you play him right.

Daeva can resist anything except temptation. Find out what it is that really floats the daeva's boat and you can use it to your advantage. I am reminded of the scene in "Interview with a Vampire" where Claudia tempts Lestat with the laudanum laced twins. Keep offering the Daeva opportunities to sin and they will either jump in (and possibly lose humanity in the process) or you'll whittle away at his store of Willpower. Take pictures for proof.

Now mechanically, the Mekhet don't have a built in social weakness (Their Clan weakness is additional damage from fire and sunlight) But, they do have a reputation for a tendency to stick to the shadows and to have a byzantine twisty turny agenda.
In other words, you can crab their actions by calling into question their motives and their actions at nearly any turn. Trust comes hard for anything the Mekhet want to do. In fact, most Mekhet don't even want to admit what clan they are. They just don't mention it. It's your job to make it come harder for them.

Sono Finito

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Informational Management

A Storyteller is a manager of Information. This is what he does. It is his PRIMARY role. His design and story writing skills are entirely secondary.

Pretty bold statement huh? I should maybe try to back it up somehow.

I can't count the number of times that i have seen half written plots. Heck, I've done it myself. I'm not talking about half written adventures, i'm talking about plots.

A plot must have at least 3 parts. X happens, Y happens, and then Z happens. X,Y, and Z are a geometric scale of things that the players don't want to have happpen. This much i've spoken of before.

So what makes a plot complete and whole?
In order to answer this question, i must turn to the field of Journalism. Journalism students are enjoined to seek out the answers to questions when writing a story.
and How?

Naturally, the stresses between plot writing and newspaper writing are different animals. So let's look at them.

While in journalism the ethical things to do is refrain from idle specualtion, (Although you don't see that as much today in the modern press) In storytelling, the WHY of something is the most important part of the process of plot building. In coming up with the WHY of a plot, one needs to look at the needs and desires of the players. Plots require a WHY. Plots with no WHY are pointless and a lame fuckaround. Most plots that have a compelling WHY come out of a desire on the part of the antagonists that run counter to the desires of the players. Or in some rare cases, the desires of the antagonists are actually in sync with the players desires, but the antagonists go about achieving their desires in ways that the players dislike or cannot handle.
The WHY of a plot is the axle around which the rest of the plot turns. Don't believe me? Have a player find a non-violent solution to a plot that you expected a bloodbath from. Perhaps for once, a player decides to TALK to the bad guys and finds out that maybe the problem can be fixed. Perhaps the bad guys aren't so bad after all. Believe me, sometimes finding a different solution based on understanding the WHY can be more satisfying than the usual shake and bake violence. After all, Sun Tzu says that that the point of warfare is not to destroy the enemy, but to sap the enemies will to fight.

The personalities of the people involved in the plot make it up. it is they who have the desires that create the WHY after all. If the WHY is the Axle, then the WHO is the wheel. Is the enemy smart? Then the plot will require puzzling out and skull-sweat.
Is the enemy socially adept? Then the players may be in for the political fight of their lives. Is the Enemy strong? Then tactics and force of arms will be needed.
The personality of the WHO, whether they be a lone antagonist or a cabal, dictates the shape of the plot and also it's responses to protagonist action. Can they be reasoned with? Can they be fought? Are they stable, or some kind of wingnut?
Look at it this way. Take a simple plot. How is it changed by having the Joker be at the apex of the pyramid? Take that same plot and remove the Joker from it and put the Penguin in the same place.
Now when the Plot is in the hands of more than one person, say a cabal of antagonists, then you must look at the Cabal as a holistic whole. You must construct in your mind an aggregate personality of that Cabal and determine the conditions for success and failure for the aggregate.

So you have a bad guy, and he wants something. The HOW is the path that he MUST take to get to it. Since the world is never easy, even to the bad guys, this path is some sort of multi-step processs. (This is that XYZ blather i was talking about earlier)
For particularly sneakypants bad guys, this multi-step process may include getting rid of anybody who could squeal or who could piece things together before it's too late. Of course, it may be this step that gives the good guys the inkling that something bad is going on.
These steps usually fall out like this:
1) Conceive of the desire
2) Find out what is necessary to make the desire happen
3) Recruit like-minded helpers/dupes/tools
4) Secure that which is necessary to make the desire happen
5) Enact the plan
6) Gloat and cackle diabolically

Now in a bad guys world, this would of course, go off flawlessly. (There's a whole angry screed i could go on about the Neocon right here, but I'll skip that tangent tonight.) But, naturally, in a game world, there are protagonists who might mean to stop them. (Morality is not really a concern here, the "bad guys" in a Vampire larp might be a cadre of hunters who mean to destroy the bloodsuckers for good and all.)

The WHAT is the whole of the plot in terms of it's events. Each step in the plan is an event. Each event creates a branch in a decision tree. It is a good idea for a Storyteller to have an idea of the twists and turns that a plot might take if the players win/lose/or draw in each contact with the enemy. If you have an idea of what this will do, it will take the pressure off of you to keep antagonists alive in order to keep a plot moving. Heck, in some cases, the antagonists inevitable mortality may be factored into the plan. It may even accelerate the plots timetable. I personally love it when a bad guy is able to strike at the good guys from even beyond the grave.

Naturally, once the protagonists get wind of what's going on they'll want to go round to where the antagonists hang their hat and start wrecking up their shit. Or maybe, the good guys get an idea of where the dark ritual has to happen. Whether it's in an abandoned defiled church or the local mini-putt, it would do to give some thought to the various places where action must occur. Make a list of cool places that you could set scenes in. Don't let every damn thing happen at Court/Moots/Chantries.

There is a timetable. Just assume that there is. The plan may require waiting for the stars to come right or it may require the acquisition of necessary parts for the ritual. When the time is ripe the plan will happen. You can of course stretch this a bit or compress it as you choose, but there is going to be a WHEN. Plan for it to come. Don't get caught with being unready once the players can actually move against the bad guy at the most dramatically apropriate time. I've made that mistake on occasion, and I felt like such a shmuck at the time. Remember all plots are essentially finite and all have their ending places.
Don't stretch too long and don't compress too much either. Study the fine art of pacing.

Sono Finito

Leading By Example

A girl i am very fond of, is very far away. Gertrude (Not her real name) is in the wilds of Florida and i am missing her somewhat fiercely. A while ago, she called me and asked me to help her find a larp in the area. Since i hold a black belt in Google -fu, I was able to locate one for her in a nearby city and she goes to her first game session soonish.

She mentioned this to me last night. She also said, "I only hope that the game isn't full of pimply boys with trenchoats who are going to try to chew on me. If it is, I blame you."

Which I guess is fair. (That noise you hear is the rolling of my eyes.)

I do think that it's important when going to a larp to make a good impression. Which she definitely does. Gert, for all the things that make me twitch, is a classy lady and she brings the party with her wherever she might go.

Class may not be contagious, but it does have a tendency to bring up the level of the social dynamic. and i think that it's important to for any person who is thinking about running a larp to strive to be, at the very least, an asshole with class.

So, if you don't have your act together, start paying attention to the people who do. If you do have your act together, give folks a chance to try to get theirs together like you. You can't really do the work for them, you can really only point the way.

Who knows, if everybody tried this, the dorkiness of this hobby might melt away like dew on the spring grass.

In any event, i'm warning the gamers of Florida that I'm willing to get on a plane and execute every last one of you if Gertrude says that i should. So try to have your party manners in place. okay?

Sono Finito

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

In Da House

Over the last couple of days, i happened to see Steven King's "Rose Red". Oddly this is one of those weird movies that has an odd resonance for me.

I dream about houses. Great big ones. the kind you can get lost in. The larger and the weirder, the better. I think houses symbolize the human mind in dreams. I am also fascinated by the concept of the Memory Palace as it relates to the mind.

Houses have a specific vibe and when creating a place for players to move around in, you gotta think about that vibe and try to find ways to help the players find that vibe. and it's not all about the furniture and the tchotchkes.

If i ever hit the Powerball, I'm buying a big Victorian house. If i have a chance, i'd have it built from scratch with secret doors, hidden elevators, firepoles, passage-ways, and additional crazy shit like that. A place highly conducive to fun larping. That shit would be so sweet.

In the meantime, I offer you links!
  • A blog of the Winchester Mystery House

  • Wikipedia's Entry on Memory Palaces